What’s the collective noun for Christian bloggers?

A gaggle? An army? A loveliness [as in ladybirds – hands down still my all time favourite collective noun]? I’m not sure, but yesterday, Tearfund welcomed a group of people labelled as Christian bloggers to their offices for a day of discussion about social media, campaigns, networking and, obviously, Tearfund.

It has to be said that I was rather surprised to be invited. I’ve long had a slight complex about this blog in Christian circles as it’s rarely theological in content and far too light-hearted to be taken terribly seriously, but I am interested in international development and the role of the church internationally, so it was a very attractive invite! There were also a couple of others present who take a more light-hearted look at the church – like Dave Walker and Simon Jenkins (the founder of Ship of Fools), so at least I was in good company.

A more serious blogpost relating to some of our discussions will emerge in the next few days, but for now, here’s some thoughts that have evolved from the scribbles made in the margins of my ‘sensible’ notes…

Our brilliant name badges. Scan that code and you’ll know all about me…

For a start. I love that people organise events like this. It’s really good to get to know other bloggers/tweeters/website creators, but the majority of us share a significant personality trait: we’re usually introverts, who find being left in a room together an utterly unnerving experience. Thank goodness Tearfund’s staff are an effervescent and cheerful bunch! Oh, and pastries help the networking process enormously.

Opening up such events to those elsewhere via an online video stream is also an excellent idea – especially when the whole point is social media. However, it is easy to develop a paranoid fear of cameras and those unseen viewers. At one point I made a (rather long) comment about something, and then had tweets from total strangers about it. I guess that’s a good thing, but it’s disconcerting all the same.

What’s also got to be disconcerting is spending 2 hours with a group of people, sharing your thoughts, but rarely getting eye contact as their faces are buried in their phone/iPad/tablet/notebook. It was a privilege spending such quality time with Matthew Frost (Tearfund Chief Exec), but I felt almost as though I wasn’t engaging properly because of the live-tweeting – even though that was the whole point! (And my notes would suggest that I was paying a lot of attention.)

Photo courtesy of this tweet.
See, I’m buried in my note-making…

Talking of live-tweeting, fellow Tweeters, what is the tipping point for it becoming annoying? [And, for those who follow me, did I hit it?] It annoys the heck out of me if someone’s at an event I don’t care about and not only live-tweets, but retweets everything anyone else tweets about it too. But when you’re at an event, following hash tags is exceptionally useful. Incidentally, should you be interested, yesterday’s hashtag was #TFDigital.

I also have a new label for how I blog – I am a recreational blogger. To be honest, most bloggers in the world are doing it for fun, not money, but in church contexts there are quite a few pros around. One day, may be I’ll be able to hand in my amateur status… Also, thanks to a fellow blogger, I also have a great new way of labelling one of my favourite blog genres. Previously known as American crafty/mom type blogs, these are now to be known as ‘How to make cute pillow blogs’. I do like learning how to make cute pillows!

Oh, and I really, really need to get over my paranoid fear of meeting total strangers who (it emerges) already follow me on Twitter. I had a conversation yesterday (with someone who wasn’t one of the bloggers) that went along the lines of:
Hi, I’m Liz…
Clutterbuck? Oh yes! I follow you on Twitter! 

All in all it was a good day. Thank-you to Holly and Katie for organising it (and inviting me) and I look forward to all the blogposts that will inevitably emerge from it. So far, I’ve found one from Anita, but I’ll keep you posted.

Twittering religiously

Research published today by Tearfund shows the ways in which people are communicating their faith via social media. Of those surveyed, 74% had welcomed ‘the opportunity to reveal their faith on digital platforms’ and nearly half had used Facebook (specifically) as a forum for sharing prayer requests. An average of 80% of respondents (across the age-groups who responded) also said that Facebook and Twitter inspired them to pray for others and specific situations.

It’s a relatively small (212) and self-selecting (the survey was advertised via social networks) sample, but it does show that social media is having an impact upon the way in which people live out their faith online and offline. Two days into Lent, this is a particularly relevant survey given the number of people who have decided to give up social networking for the duration.

It’s not something I particularly agree with – partly because of the results of this survey. Sure, if social networking is distracting you from working, studying or living in the ‘real world’ to the point of unhealthiness, then create boundaries, but will a 40 day fast really change your long-term attitude? But what about the role it has in our spiritual lives? Nurturing relationships; being challenged; asking and receiving prayer; staying up to date with international situations; learning new things – all of this now happens via social networks. Vicky Beeching spoke my mind on this subject in a blogpost yesterday entitled: Why I disagree with giving up social media for Lent’.

One of the things I’m becoming increasingly passionate about is the importance of churches and Christians using social media effectively. (Actually, I’m passionate about everyone using it effectively, it’s just that most of the time I’m talking about this within church-y circles. Most of what follows will apply to the rest of the world too.) I don’t simply mean in a marketing sense, but primarily in a building community way. I’d almost go as far as to say that a Facebook/Twitter presence is as essential to a church as a decent website is.

So I thought now might be a good time to share a few tips for individuals and groups on why they should care about their social media presence – and why, possibly, they should join Twitter. [Disclaimer: I am a massive Twitter fan. It isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, but it is worth a go – honest!]

1. Cross-platform consolidation
Let’s start with something that sounds pretentious, but is actually very sensible. If you’re a church/organisation, then create social media presences that work well together. Just like an individual might have Facebook, Twitter and a blog, so might a church have a Facebook page, Twitter feed and website. Make sure that you put the same information through all of them. You may think it’s pointless because it’s the same audience, but it’s not and the information can be used in different ways on each. On Twitter, for example, a church member might choose to retweet a church announcement so their followers can hear about it – something that’s harder to do with a Facebook status.
NB: If you’re going to do an auto-feed from one platform to another, make sure you do it from Twitter to Facebook, not the other way round. Feeding Facebook to Twitter doesn’t always work, because if the update exceeds 140 characters, you’ll be directed to a Facebook page – fine if you have a Facebook account, rubbish if you don’t. 

2. Save time by setting up auto-updates
There’s plenty of ways of doing this – some Twitter apps enable scheduled posting, so you can decide when you want something to go out. This means you can set things up even if you’re going to be on holiday, so Sunday services announcements can still go out, even if you’re not online one week. Our church’s website automatically sends out a tweet whenever new sermon audio is uploaded. [If you’re wondering about what a church Twitter account could post, the themes of Sunday talks and links to their audio would be a really good place to start.] Other platforms, like Flickr, will auto-Tweet whenever you add new content too.

3. Have a small team of people with access to your social media accounts
It’s kind of a simple rule of delegation really, but also means that it’s all dependent upon one person being at everything and online all the time. Mobile devices are particularly useful for this as it’s much easier to switch between Twitter accounts on an iPhone than on a computer (I currently have 4, this may be excessive…). This can also work by an individual person following lots of church people on Twitter, and being on the ball enough to re-tweet their stuff when relevant. You can also add specific accounts – so I now have a student Twitter in addition to the main church one and we complement each other, re-tweeting as appropriate.

4. Keep things private when they need to be private
The Tearfund research emphasises the ways in which Christians use social media for prayer requests. Some people are happy to share via very public forums like Twitter or Facebook, but others might want a safer space in which to do this. A church Facebook Page might work for certain things, but a closed group might be more appropriate for others – this worked brilliantly with my student group last year and I’ve just set up something similar for this year’s. I also belong to a brilliant women’s prayer group on Facebook which has become a place for sharing some really tough stuff, but also for reading truly inspiring stories. Having said that, it’s astonishing just how quickly a prayer request can get round the Twitter community – truly stunning and a really valuable asset of that network.

5. Use hashtags
This may sound solely Twitter related, but it’s not. For those not in the know, a hashtag is a way of grouping together tweets – placing ‘#’ before something on Twitter turns it into a hyperlink through which you can see all other tweets mentioning the same thing. For example, the Greenbelt festival usually goes with #gb12 (or whatever year it happens to be). This is useful for several reasons:

  • It can create a buzz for an event and help people see who else is there and what’s going on.
  • It enables people to bring together all the tweets from one event and store them for posterity.
  • It can be used to create ‘Twitter falls’ in other places. The Methodist Conference used this to startlingly good effect in 2011. Any tweets containing the hashtag #methconf were displayed on the conference’s main website, alongside the live video feed and papers – meaning that people could join in conversations in real time. [See, it’s not just for Twitter!]
6. Follow what you’re interested in and share what others might like
Treat your organisation like an individual (or, if you’re an individual – be individual!). Follow what you’re interested in – people, places, groups – and share what grabs your attention if you think it might benefit others. For example, social media has been a great place in the last few days to share what people are doing for Lent – I’ve discovered 24-7’s prayer spaces; Tearfund’s carbon fast; Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings and myriad other initiatives via the people I follow and have passed them on in turn. If you have a church account, follow your members and engage with their lives (within suitable boundaries, obviously), but aim to inspire them too. With my student Twitter account I have two weekly aims – firstly, to keep student Twitterers informed on what we’re up to and share our doings; and secondly, to share at least one inspiring thought from our gatherings. The latter is something that often gets picked up by the people who follow us, so in turn (hopefully) inspires others.

I could talk for hours about the joys of social media and there’s plenty more to say on this subject, but I think this will do for now. In fact, friends have started booking me for personal social media surgeries, which I’m more than happy to do (though I apologise to those sat near me on Eurostar when the woman sat next to me grilled me about Twitter from London to Lille…). It’s well worth investing the time and effort – honest!

Fact or fiction?

A few years ago I made a habit of noting the random things I overheard (purely by chance, this was not intentional eavesdropping) and chronicling them on this blog in a cunningly named ‘overheard’ series. One of my favourites (aside from a locker room marriage chat) was one about a dead dog in a suitcase that got stolen

[You’ll have to follow that link, I’m not re-telling it here!]

I remember it vividly. I’d been having coffee with my friend Katie outside Cafe Nero by London Bridge’s pirate ship. It was a sunny day and while Katie went inside to use the facilities, I soaked up some rays. As I did so, I couldn’t help but overhear what the two ladies at the table next to us were talking about. It was utterly bizarre and enthralling, so I sat there with my eyes closed, trying to remember the details so I could write about it later.

It’s the kind of story that sticks in one’s head, so it’s not surprising that when I spotted the following exchange on Facebook last week, my attention was well and truly caught:

Spot that last comment? Dead dog in stolen suitcase reference. I couldn’t believe my eyes and spent some time wondering if I’d ever told Sophie the story (she was in my small group last year, so it was more than possible). At the same time as I was writing a comment to that effect, someone else joined in and things got even more curious: 

Have you heard the story? (Other than by reading this blog – and if you’ve been reading since May 2009 you deserve some kind of long-service award!) Is it a sophisticated urban myth? Was the old lady I heard telling the tale simply repeating something she’d heard elsewhere for comic effect? Or, was someone with a much, much more popular blog than mine in Cafe Nero that day and caused the story to go viral?

Who knows. Still, it makes for an excellent dinner party conversation.

A moving silence

I am moving house. I have little time to do anything but fill boxes with junk; fill bin-bags with throwawayable junk; move junk between boxes in the hope of using fewer boxes; and take apart furniture. Oh, and clean, a bit.

Today a carload of my possessions reached my new home and it was good. Furniture was rearranged and I now have a very pleasing wall of Billy/Benno bookcases. This makes me happy. Tomorrow, I will hire a van with a friend who can drive (and to whom I will be eternally grateful), fill it, drive to Wembley, unload some stuff, drive it to King’s Cross, unload the rest of it, and return the van. [Please pray that’s the sequence of events as I would dearly love to get it all in first time.] Tomorrow night I will sleep in my new flat for the first time.

On Friday morning I will go to Greenbelt. The most stressful week of my life for some years is to be followed by 3 nights camping and my return to London will herald a day of intensive flat cleaning. By my reckoning, I’m looking at September 1st before I can have a day of total relaxation (and even then, I’ll probably be unpacking). This is the second time I’ve moved house the week of Greenbelt – you’d have thought I’d have learnt my lesson the first time.

Anyway, this is just to say that I’m silent because I’m busy. No doubt I’ll return from Greenbelt with plenty of blog fodder. I may even get to blog while there, as I’m going to be helping teach people how to blog. If you’re going to be there too, do say hello – I’ll be the rather dazed looking blonde wearing purple wellies and eating either falafel or churros, possibly both.

Literary Giveaway Blog Hop (25th – 29th June)

I love a good giveaway and it’s been quite a while since I last participated in one. In the past they’ve been crafty, but I have absolutely zero time for crafting at the moment, but when I saw Nose in a Book’s mention of a literary giveaway a little while ago, I signed myself up straight away. This may not be a ‘literary blog’ (heck, it’s no specific kind of blog…) but I am a die-hard bibliophile and like to review books when I get the chance.

The idea is to offer blog readers a book (or something similar) that’s of ‘literary merit’ – Judith, the genius behind it all, explains it here. For me, there was absolutely no contest as to what I’d offer – after all that I’ve raved about it, 84 Charing Cross Road was the logical choice. It’s the story of two bibliophiles; a woman who loves two cities I love dearly (my own fabulous London and the ever-wonderful NYC); and a jolly good, non-fiction read.

Ideally, the winner will get the gorgeous Virago hardback edition, but it’s not easily available these days, so if I can’t locate a copy it’ll be the standard paperback version.

All you have to do to be entered into the giveaway is leave a comment on this post – regular readers are more than welcome, as well as blog hoppers – and the winner will be chosen at random on June 30th. [I was really pleased last giveaway that the winner was a regular, it felt like a reward for putting up with my ramblings…] Oh, and don’t forget to leave some way of being contacted – either a blog or e-mail address! Don’t worry, I will post internationally too. If you fancy it, there are over 70 other blogs participating, listed below. Enjoy!

List of all the Participants:

  1. Leeswammes (Int)
  2. The Book Whisperer (Int)
  3. Kristi Loves Books (Int)
  4. Teadevotee (Int)
  5. Bookworm with a View (Int)
  6. Bibliosue (Int)
  7. Sarah Reads Too Much (Int)
  8. write meg! (USA)
  9. My Love Affair With Books (Int)
  10. Seaside Book Nook (Int)
  11. Uniflame Creates (Int)
  12. Always Cooking Up Something (Int)
  13. Book Journey (Int)
  14. ThirtyCreativeStudio (Int)
  15. Col Reads (Int)
  16. The Book Diva’s Reads (Int)
  17. The Scarlet Letter (USA)
  18. The Parrish Lantern (Int)
  19. Lizzy’s Literary Life (Int)
  20. Read, Write & Live (Int)
  21. Book’d Out (Int)
  22. The Readers’ Suite (Int)
  23. I Am A Reader, Not A Writer (USA)
  24. Ephemeral Digest (Int)
  25. Miel et lait (Int)
  26. Bibliophile By the Sea (Int)
  27. Polychrome Interest (Int)
  28. Book World In My Head (Int)
  29. In Spring it is the Dawn (Int)
  30. everybookhasasoul (Int)
  31. Nishita’s Rants and Raves (Int)
  32. Fresh Ink Books (Int)
  33. Teach with Picture Books (USA)
  34. How to Teach a Novel (USA)
  35. The Blue Bookcase (Int)
  36. Gaskella (Int)
  37. Reflections from the Hinterland (USA)
  38. chasing bawa (Int)
  39. 51stories (Int)
  40. No Page Left Behind (USA)

  1. Silver’s Reviews (USA)
  2. Nose in a book (Int)
  3. Lit in the Last Frontier (Int)
  4. The Book Club Blog (Int)
  5. Under My Apple Tree (Int)
  6. Caribousmom (USA)
  7. breienineking (Netherlands)
  8. Let’s Go on a Picnic! (Int)
  9. Rikki’s Teleidoscope (Int)
  10. De Boekblogger (Netherlands)
  11. Knitting and Sundries (Int)
  12. Elle Lit (USA)
  13. Indie Reader Houston (Int)
  14. The Book Stop (Int)
  15. Eliza Does Very Little (Int)
  16. Joy’s Book Blog (Int)
  17. Lit Endeavors (USA)
  18. Roof Beam Reader (Int)
  19. The House of the Seven Tails (Int)
  20. Tony’s Reading List (Int)
  21. Sabrina @ Thinking About Loud! (Int)
  22. Rebecca Reads (Int)
  23. Kinna Reads (Int)
  24. In One Eye, Out the Other (USA)
  25. Books in the City (Int)
  26. Lucybird’s Book Blog (Europe)
  27. Book Clutter (USA)
  28. Exurbanis (Int)
  29. Lu’s Raves and Rants (USA & Canada)
  30. Sam Still Reading (Int)
  31. Dolce Bellezza (Int)
  32. Lena Sledge’s Blog…Books, Reviews and Interviews (Int)
  33. a Thousand Books with Quotes (Int)